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Summary of the Article "Public Support for Political Violence and Paramilitarism in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland"

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Most of the research on paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland has concentrated on either the historical origins of paramilitary organizations or the background characteristics of individuals who engage in this activity. Less attention has been given to analyzing public attitudes in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland toward the use of paramilitary violence as a political tool within this society. In this paper we argue that one of the reasons for the intractability of the conflict and the current impasse over the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons is the widespread latent support for paramilitary activity among the civilian population in both these societies

Overall, the results suggest that only a lengthy period without political violence in Northern Ireland will undermine support for paramilitarism and result in the decommissioning of weapons.

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While much attention has been devoted to political efforts to solve the Northern Ireland problem, less attention has been given to the role of political violence in sustaining the conflict

We argue that one of the reasons for the intractability of the conflict is widespread exposure to political violence among the civil population. By 1998, thirty years after the conflict started, one in seven of the population reported being a victim of violence; one in five had a family member killed or injured; and one in four had been caught up in an explosion. Such widespread exposure to violence exists alongside latent support for paramilitarism among a significant minority of both communities. Using 1998 survey data, we show that exposure to violence serves to enhance public support for paramilitary groups, as well as to reduce support for the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. Overall, the results suggest that only a lengthy period without political violence will undermine support for paramilitarism and result in the decommissioning of weapons.

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Most of the research on political violence and paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland has concentrated on either the historical origins of paramilitary organizations or the background characteristics and motivations of the individuals who engage in this activity. Less attention has been given to analyzing public attitudes toward the use of paramilitary violence as a political tool within this society. This is particularly the case in the Republic of Ireland where (with one notable, albeit controversial, exception) public support for paramilitary activity has rarely been assessed. It is with this omission in mind that this article focuses on public attitudes toward the role of paramilitary activity in the post-1968 period of political conflict in Northern Ireland. The article proceeds in three stages. First, the nature and extent of political violence in Northern Ireland—most notably paramilitary activity since the late 1960s—is briefly outlined (Bernadette C. Hayes and Ian McAllister, 2001). Second, using data from the 1999–2000 European Values Study in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, public attitudes in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland toward the use of paramilitary violence are examined in depth. Finally, we investigate the relationship between public support for paramilitary violence and current attitudes toward decommissioning within both these societies (Steve Bruce, 1992).

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Definitely, the current impasse over the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons in Northern Ireland alsoindicates that while all parties may have been signatories to what they believe to be alasting settlement, most (and particularly the republican paramilitaries) wish tomaintain their military capacity in the event of a breakdown. Whatever the politicaloutcome of the collapse in the latest phase of the negotiations at Leeds Castle inSeptember 2004, it suggests that, irrespective of whether the assembly is reestablishedor not, latent support for paramilitary groups in both Northern Ireland and theRepublic of Ireland will continue for some time in the future.

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Brendan O’Leary and John McGarry. The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland (London: Athlone Press, 1993), 21.

U.S. Secretary of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 1998 (Washington, DC: U.S. State Department, 1999).

Bernadette C. Hayes and Ian McAllister, ‘‘Sowing Dragon’s Teeth: Public Support for Political Violence and Paramilitarism in Northern Ireland,’’ Political Studies 49, no.5 (2001): 901–22.

Steve Bruce, The Red Hand: Protestant Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)

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